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Syriac characters seem to have been derived from Kufic, or monumental Arabic, used in rock inscriptions, coins and seals, rather than from the cursive Naskhi, used on papyrus and parchment. Syriac has now been almost entirely superseded by modern Arabic, except in a few isolated communities and among the clergy, and may be considered a dead language. Syriac, a Semitic language, originally a dialect of Aramaic, which in turn sprang from the Phoenician, was the spoken and written language of a vast region East of Antioch, and for a time, the cultural language of Persia. In fact, it ranked in importance second only to Greek throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. The Nestorians were a Christian sect founded in Edessa about 435 A.D. Undaunted by the persecution of the Byzantine rulers and Orthodox Eastern Church, they established bishoprics throughout the Near East and soon became the greatest proselytizers of the Christian faith in Asia, with a zeal comparable only to that of Jesuits whom anticipated by nine centuries. Adventurous Nestorian missionaries carried their faith into Turkestan and then pushed onto India, Mongolia, and to China, where they achieved their most spectacular success. From Chinese sources we know that their influence spread all over the Empire and that monasteries were erected in scores of cities; but the only direct record so far discovered is the famous Nestorian stone in Shen-si. This stone tablet is inscribed in Chinese, but has a footnote in Syriac, which bears a pronounced resemblance to the writing of this manuscript, and is dated 781 A.D.
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